An introduction to the lives of the Simonsbath carpenters.

Carpenters have always played a very significant role in the life of communities.  They have used their skill at working with wood to help build, furnish, maintain and repair homes and houses, farmsteads, churches, schools, workshops and other buildings.  They have made the vehicles - carriages, carts, wagons and barrows - needed to transport people and goods.  For millennia they have selected and shaped the wood for our tools and utensils, and have even crafted our playthings: toys and musical instruments. 

Here is a list of the carpenters we know have worked in Simonsbath.

 

 

Lived

Worked in Simonsbath

James Harvey

1798 - 1880s

<1833 - c1852

Thomas Hodge

 1816 - 

c1852 - <1861

John Karslake

1826 – 1905

1857 - 1875

William Hodge

1841 - ?

1875 - c1894

James Welch

1863 - 1935

 

Charles Elworthy

1875 - 1950

1901 – 1918

William Welch

1882 - 1962?

c1911 – 1957

George Webber

1882 - ?

1919 – 1945/6

Harold James

? - ?

1947 – 1953

John Bellingham

? - ?

1953 - 1956

Denzil Westlake

1930 - 1992

1959 – 1992

 

We are researching the lives of all of these carpenters so if you have information about any of them please do get in touch.  

The lives of four * Simonsbath carpenters are outlined here: James Harvey (1798 - <1881); John Karslake (1826 - 1905), James Welch (1863 - 1935) and Denzil Westlake (1930 - 1992).  We have included them here because they were operating at particularly significant times in the history of this remarkable village, which lies at the very heart of Exmoor National Park.  

 James Harvey (1798 – <1881) is the first Simonsbath carpenter whose name we know.  He was there shortly after the former Royal Forest of Exmoor - which had existed for perhaps 1000 years – came to an end.  He worked in a small group of remote buildings lying in the centre of an extensive area of wild, open moorland.  He used his skills to help John Knight, the wealthy Midlands ironmaster who had bought a vast area of land from the Crown and its neighbours, embark on his ambitious venture to create a great demesne country estate. 

 The second carpenter featured here is John Karslake (1826 – 1905) who lived in Simonsbath from 1857 to 1875.  He worked for John Knight’s eldest son, Frederic (later Sir Frederic) Knight when Simonsbath village was formed and its church, vicarage and school established.  He saw the efforts being made to carve new farmsteads out of the inhospitable moorland and the struggles of the tenant farmers and their families to adapt to Exmoor's climate and soils.

 The third carpenter is James Welch (1863 - 1935).  He arrived on Exmoor not long after Sir Frederic Knight's only son had died, at just 27 years of age, and had been buried at the church his father had built in Simonsbath.  This tragedy had effectively brought to an end the Knight family dream and when James Welch began his work the estate had already been sold.  However, Sir Frederic remained in control for another 11 years until his death aged 84, in 1897.  It was then that James Welch witnessed the flurry of activity as the new owner, Lord Fortescue of Castle Hill, Filleigh, and more particularly of his son Viscount Ebrington, the future 4th Earl Fortescue who managed the estate, began to implement their long-held plans.  These included the major refurbishment of the main house (where James Welch's wife was the housekeeper), of the carpenters' shop and sawmill (where James Welch worked) and of some of the cottages (including the one where the Welch family lived).

Denzil Westlake (1930 - 1992) was the last resident estate carpenter in Simonsbath.  After he died the village was left without a carpenter for the first time since John Knight laid down the foundations of the village in the 1820s and Simonsbath Sawmill, where Den Westlake worked, lay unused until it was bought by Exmoor National Park Authority  in 1996 and restored in 2002/03. 

*  We have now also added a fifth - William Hodge.  Notes on the other carpenters have also been compiled.  If you have information about any of them please get in touch.